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Dream Life: Margrit Mondavi Remembered

September 7, 2016

The mourning continues for Margrit Mondavi who died last Friday of cancer, at age 91.  One of the great local spirits, the Swiss blonde, along with the "love of her life," Robert Mondavi, will always be remembered for a kind of philanthropic joi de vivre, and for a devout trust in good food, good wine, and the arts.

“She was really a model of how to go through life,” said Don Roth, executive director of the Mondavi Center, “doing good things and enjoying the world you’re in.”

Mondavi’s gifts to UC Davis led not only to the creation of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts but also to the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Recently, Margrit Mondavi also made a $2 million gift to the university’s new art museum, scheduled to open in November.

In 2010, Roth, his wife, Jolán Friedhoff, and a small group that included Margrit went to France to see the Ballet Preljocaj production of Snow White.

We were in Orleans. It was New Year’s Eve. The weather was cold, icy and grim, and here we were trying to find a place to eat.  Margrit immediately took charge and decided we had to find a bookstore that sold the Michelin guide.  So we find a book store and the guide but there aren’t any restaurants with stars only one marked with forks and spoons a couple of miles away.  Margrit was in her 80s then and off we went down the cobble stone streets.  Not the most elegant restaurant but the ballet was terrific and I will always remember that evening for the way Margrit could make any circumstance fun and adventurous.

Margrit Mondavi strongly believed that no community was complete without good schools and cultural organizations, particularly a museum and a symphony, which is one reason she was such a keen supporter of the Napa Valley Symphony. In 2012, after the symphony collapsed she noted, “It’s not only the loss of the music, but the symphony is a key component in the community infrastructure, like a museum or a school, and now we don’t have it. Above all, you must realize the importance of concerts in bringing people together, and bringing them together with music and joy. People forget the community function of a symphony.”

She added, “I’m always looking at the future and that’s why I’m concerned about who is going to continue teaching beauty to young people if we don’t have these organizations. But I am always optimistic.”

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in ArtsJournal.com.  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is macnamband.com.